Many, many churchgoers are happily unaware of a particularly troubling philosophical struggle that has rippled behind the scenes for several centuries. Though the average congregational member isn’t engaged in this debate, the weight of the arguments on both sides hold dramatic implications for how our churches view the lost, how believers view their salvation, and how we all view our great God. The battle concerns nothing less than our individual relationship with God and how we are saved…
What am I writing about here? What are the sides of this debate? I’m sowing a discussion of course about the classic theological perspectives of Calvinism and Arminianism. What are they? What insights do each offer? Over the next few weeks (with only a single post each week), we will pick these ideas apart and see where the merit resides, hopefully identifying how we should ultimately respond in turn.
Now, to be completely honest, I do not feel that the various positions held by Calvinists and Arminianists are detrimental to the salvation of either; they simply reflect differing interpretations of the matter and our relationship with Christ. Even so, the body of these views hold vast importance in how we move forward as believers. For the most part, many Christians are unaware that such a debate even exists. I have been in a number of churches in my life, yet the topic has never been one of open discussion from the pulpit, but rather one that arose in discussion amongst peers in small groups. Furthermore, I’ve spoken with many who had no idea what I was talking about, having never been introduced to it in any capacity. Either way, over the last year or so the matter has taken on quite a bit of weight for me personally, and I have been led to share some thoughts on the matter in that light.
As we move along, I would remind you that we all – every single one of us – need to be aware of the context from which various Scriptures arise. In that light, let’s move forward with the following in mind:
- Let’s be cautious of who is being addressed in a given passage. Our modern world is saturated with a call for individualism, in turn breeding a vast culture of narcissism. Under this kind of influence, it’s far too easy to take the words of Scripture out of their proper context, reading things meant for the church as a whole as instead a specific and personal call on the individual. Context is key.
- We must understand – as best we can – God’s purpose in a given figure’s life. As one commentator wrote, “Often God chooses us for the purpose of ministry, rather than for the purpose of salvation (Gal. 1:15; Jn. 15:16). Calvinists read all passages on choosing to refer to “going to heaven,” rather than “going to work.” A call to action thus doesn’t necessarily denote an “election,” as Calvinists would see it, and as such we must be cautious in understanding the role of a given individual in Scripture to this end. As the same commentator continued, “as you read difficult passages, ask yourself if the passage is describing how a person was chosen for a purpose in ministry, or if they were chosen to go to heaven.”¹
- Finally, and perhaps most importantly, predestination does not necessitate an absence of free will. Predestination, rather, is based not on God controlling one’s choices and action in life to a given end, but instead is founded on His foreknowledge of our individual choices. Knowing an event is going to happen doesn’t necessarily require that one be the motivating factor in that event, you see.
I do apologize if what I write over the next few weeks ruffles some feathers, but I am not sorry for sharing what I see as the plain truth of the Scriptures. Next time we will dive into the flower bed…